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STALKING TIGERS, SAVING SPECIES

The blog of Tiger Conservation Partnership participants, staff and experts.

The Great Kerinci Snare Sweep Operation

July 19

In Sumatra, a sharp spike in ungulate poaching pressure occurs in many areas in the weeks leading up to the great Islamic festival of Eid ul Fitri (known, in Indonesia, as Hari Raya) which marks the ending of the holy month of Ramadan. Communities mark the end of the daily fast with special family meals. The demand for meat – and the price – increase sharply making the festivities on Hari Raya itself very expensive. The holy month of Ramadan in Muslim religion starts this Friday, July 20, 2012.

Snare Sweep Operation

Photo courtesy of Deb Martyr, Flora and Fauna International, Kerinci Seblat National Park.

Deer poachers from some communities around Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP) respond to this market demand by intensifying poaching of deer to sell meat in traditional markets taking the opportunity to make considerable sums of money.

The KSNP Sumatran Tiger Conservation (KSNP Pelestarian Harimau Sumatera) team has recorded a substantial surge in active snares laid out in the forest over the year during the five-six weeks leading up to Idul Fitri. For example, 46 percent of all active deer snares were found and destroyed in the run up to Hari Raya in 2011, 70 percent in 2010, and 52 percent in 2009. The high rate of snare detection during this period (during Ramadan) has become noteworthy over the years compared to rest of the year when deer poaching rate is lower due to the deterrence from the patrol teams.

Operation Snare Sweep

Photo courtesy of Deb Martyr, Flora and Fauna International, Kerinci Seblat National Park.

While a Sumatran tiger should be able to release itself from a muntjak snare, sambar deer snares are frequently strong enough to hold a snared tiger. The snared tiger eventually dies from starvation or is killed by poachers. Frequently, even if tigers free themselves from snares, they will lose a paw or part of the leg rendering them incapable of catching natural prey. Tigers that physically cannot hunt are more likely to be involved in conflicts with humans, because they will prey on domestic animals. Therefore if the seasonal surge in snares is not tackled, it poses a serious threat to tigers, wildlife and humans. In response to the threat, Kerinci Seblat Tiger Protection & Conservation Units (TPCU) increase their field patrol efforts during the weeks leading up to Idul Fitri even though the rangers are also predominantly Muslim and fast from dawn to dusk.

From the very early days of the Kerinci Snare Sweeping Operation, we have provided small bonuses to TPCU and investigator-members of TPCU that conduct successful law enforcement actions against tiger poachers and traders. The bonuses are intended to recognize their work, which is often dangerous and challenging, and involves field investigations and intelligence gathering, planning and conducting law enforcement against poachers and dealers.

Operation Snare Sweep

Photo courtesy of Deb Martyr, Flora and Fauna International, Kerinci Seblat National Park.

Subsequently, we came up with an idea to launch the annual Great Kerinci Snare Sweep in 2010 that carry prizes for the TPCU team that detects greatest number of snares, safely deactivates them, and brings them to the provincial coordinator during the weeks leading up to Hari Raya (Idul Fitri). Points are awarded on the based on if the snare is active, the species targeted by the snare (birds, tiger prey, or tigers), and the number of snares found and destroyed by patrol units during the Great Kerinci Snare Sweep period. The points are shared among the winning four-man team of the patrol unit(s).

The rules of the contest are: 1. only active snares are counted; 2. the snares must be GPS-referenced and carried out of the forest to be cross-checked by the team’s provincial coordinator.

Usually, the TPCU rangers plan their patrol routes based on the information from informant networks. The TPCU are encouraged to intensify the selection and planning of patrol routes and schedule patrols according to the information secured to bring back as many live snares as possible to compete against other teams during the Ramadan period. The Greater Kerinci Snare Sweeping operation competition period fosters healthy competition among patrol team members for on-the ground action, especially during a period when many forestry officials reduce their physical activities due to fasting in Ramadan. It is fun for all the teams and the bonus is an incentive for them to go extra the mile during a period of fasting. The bonus of $400 this year for the winning unit (shared equally among its four ranger members) offers recognition for their hard work on forest patrols on foot (no use of vehicles or motorbikes) in Barsian mountains while fasting from dawn till dusk.

story courtesy of Debbie Martyr, Flora and Fauna International, Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia

July 9

Forest guards in Asia are charged with protecting vast swaths of tiger habitats. Effectively monitoring those habitats, which can be hundreds of square kilometers, with limited staff and resources is challenging. But, new technology is helping managers and conservationists get more complete views of tiger habitats faster than ever. One of the latest trends in wildlife conservation is using unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – and 360-degree infrared night vision cameras to get a look at habitats from the air and monitor illegal activity within them. This bird’s-eye view enhances the ability of protected-area staff to understand the threats to tigers, rhinos and many other species.

Recently, WWF tested a conservation drone in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. The drones were developed to be inexpensive tools for conservationists and researchers. The drone, which is equipped with GPS and cameras, was able to capture unique images and video footage of areas that can be difficult to patrol on foot or by vehicle. This view of the landscape can capture illegal activities, such as logging and certain encroachment, and survey for large animal species. In addition, thick forest vegetation can easily conceal poachers, making it difficult to find and arrest them – even if patrol teams arrive at a crime scene within 15 minutes. The teams may find evidence, such as a fresh carcass, but no culprits. But the video footage (if reviewed in real time) can help patrol teams track down poachers.

See the test of conservation drone in Chitwan National Park.

E-Eye, a 24-hour electronic software-based surveillance system, is also used to survey tiger habitats from towers, high above the canopies of key areas. After receiving approval from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Corbett National Park in India recently installed E-Eye. The system is equipped with 360-degree infrared cameras that capture any moving object weighing more than 20 kg (44 pounds) within a 562square-kilometer (217 square mile) area. Corbett’s National Park Control Room and NTCA headquarters receive alerts from E-Eye whenever it spots suspicious activity, including any movement across park borders.E-Eye and conservation drones make it harder for criminals to operate within the boundaries of protected areas. Conservation drones and E-Eye mark a significant step forward in leveling the playing field for the survival of wild tigers and many other wildlife species.

Some conservation organizations are also working with mobile phone companies to develop microchips that can monitor animals similarly to using radio-collar technology. But the microchips are very light and inexpensive. There are already some satellite radio collars that can send information about the animal’s location to a computer or through SMS to a mobile phone. Similarly, the microchip technology may be able to alert local communities through SMS messages when a tiger crosses protected-area boundaries or comes close to human settlements.

Smaller and smaller drones are on the horizon for conservationists. One drone, as small as a myna (a bird that perches on large animals, such as rhinos), is currently in development. These new technologies are going to be very helpful in improving the management systems of many protected areas. We will keep you posted on these types of new technologies as they become available. If you are working in a protected area, please share some of the innovations used in wildlife management that you are aware of through the WILD TIGERS listserv.